About Lea's Foundation

In 1998, Lea Michele Economos, a young woman who died of leukemia at the age of 28, made a dying wish to her parents that others would not face the hardships she encountered by finding a cure for this disease. Her family started this charity to carry on that wish. Today, Lea’s Foundation takes an active role in finding a cure for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and myeloma and to better the lives of people living with these diseases. At the UCONN Health Center, the Lea’s Foundation Center for Hematologic Disorders sponsors research in this field. A new program covers the cost of bone-marrow testing to help recruit life-saving transplants for patients. Also, annual scholarships are given to children with leukemia who are planning to attend nursery school. For more information on other projects carried out by Lea’s Foundation, please visit their website at www.LeasFoundation.org.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Day 31 - Thermopolis, WY to Shoshoni, WY (33 miles)

Today we had an ambitious route planned. 32 miles to Shoshoni for food then another 100 miles to Casper, WY. The Paris's made us a delicious breakfast of pancakes, eggs and sausage. Best of all: they had the first real maple syrup I've seen since leaving Connecticut. Unfortunately my body had other plans and the stomach pain I had been fighting for the past couple days got the best of me. Sudden vertigo confirmed that I was dehydrated and despite drinking plenty of water, I had become electrolyte imbalanced over the past few days. 132 miles was not going to be possible.

Many glasses of water and Gatorade later, and a few Thermotabs later and I felt 100%. A fantastic Paris meal of spaghetti and meat sauce gave us the energy we needed to get moving. The midday heat was in full swing but we only needed to get to Shoshoni.

The ride first part of the ride was beautiful as we entered the Wind River Canyon. 

This ride was a slow climb for its entirety but once again our eyes were deceiving us. Even with a slight headwind, and the fact that we were opposing the Bighorn River's flow, the road looked downhill. Recent "chip and seal" work had left loose gravel and sticky tar in the shoulder. With rocks sticking to our tires, we were in for a bumpy ride.  The canyon was beautiful though and with our short distance today we were able to take it all in. There were signs along the canon's length that explained the name and age of the rock formations that reached far above the road on which we traveled.

Traveling through 3 tunnels in quick succession, we exited the Wind River Canyon next to the Boysen Power Plant and dam. We climbed a few long rolling hills and suddenly we were out in the open. With the mountains at our backs, we reached flatter and flatter land. Sudden we could see for miles. We first saw Shoshoni about 5 miles before actually reaching it.

The Desert Inn Motel is the last of 3 motels still open in town. Before getting there we ate at the last gas station of 3 that is still open. As a welcome change, the only diner in town is still open. In fact, the Mimi Diner opened just today, and was about 50 feet from our motel door. Our luck is looking up.

Written by Greg Kirby 

Photos by Jonathan Kobles 

Day 30 - Cody, WY to Thermopolis, WY (85 miles)

At the crack of dawn we woke up one more time, trying to leave Cody. This time we succeeded. The wind was weaker than the day before, meaning we had hope that strong crosswinds wouldn't hammer us all day long. The thick wildfire smoke was also absent from Cody's air this morning.

We headed out of town and down Wyoming Highway 120. The land is very open here and your eyes can easily play games with your mind. Uphills look flat and flats look downhill. It's confusing, but the fact that we crawl along at 8mph on a "flat" stretch reminds us that we're really crawling up yet another hill.  We crawled and wound our way up to Oregon Basin. We took in the views of this unfortunately named location. Oregon Basin was also the location of our first oil well pumpjack sighting.

Now that we were no longer in Yellowstone, elk were everywhere, and I actually managed to see them. One elk was grazing roadside and was startled by our bikes. Instead of jumping a fence he decided to race alongside us before sprinting right in front of Jonathan's bike.

The scenery dragged on and we made our way to our goal of 35 miles for breakfast in the town of Meeteetse. The town of Meeteetse is quite small. While it does have two restaurant-bars, neither opened until after 11am. We were left with gas station food to power us the final 50 miles to Thermopolis. Chocolate chip muffin and pizza for me, tuna salad sandwiches for Jonathan and then we were off before our legs started stiffening up.

The climb out of Meeteetse was the longest and steepest of the day. Based on the elevation map we knew this would be the highest point of the day, leading to an overall descent for the remainder of the day. Finally descending, we thought the day was taking a turn for the better. Unfortunately Wyoming DOT had other ideas. They use a soft rubber sealant to fill the road cracks. Our tires were able to fit in these longitudinal cracks and sink in. This slowed us down and made our bikes track unpredictability.

Eventually the cracks ended and we reached the only highway rest area. The water was actually cold and we got to read about the rattlesnakes that could attack us in the parking lots. What more could we want?

We powered on through landscape reminiscent of the Oregon High Desert.  The miles dragged by as a headwind developed and we slowly approached Thermopolis. With a merciful final descent we cruised into the home of the largest mineral hot springs in the world. With Jonathan's knees behaving so well today we did not want to push our luck and push on to Shoshoni. We scrambled to find lodging, discovering all hotels were full for high school reunion weekend. Luckily, there was a Warmshowers host in Thermopolis.

The Paris family was wonderful to open up their home to us on such short notice. A beautiful home, warm shower, delicious cake and ice cream, and a comfortable bed was fantastic. They truly went above and beyond what is expected of a Warmshowers host. They have an extensive touring history on their tandem bikes which was great to hear about.

Photos by Jonathan Kobles 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Day 29 - Rest Day in Cody, WY (0 miles)

After over two weeks on the road I have come to learn that things do not always go according to plan. Over the course of a cross country bike trip, these are the tests that either make you or break you. 

Today began with the intention of biking 118 miles to Shoshone Wyoming from Cody Wyoming. We woke up early as we knew how long this many miles could take, especially right after a day as taxing as the one we had yesterday. From the moment I woke up, I did not have a good feeling regarding today's trip. 

Over the last week, my body, the vehicle that I rely upon to move me closer to home day after day, has been my greatest challenge. Patellar tendinitis has ravaged me knees, making cycling very difficult. Ibuprofen, ice, knee braces -- these have become a daily routine, integrated with the already challenging cycling schedule. Despite these efforts, the same pain continues to create havoc day after day.

Today was particularly special. Leaving the campground, every revolution my pedals made around the gears was met with sharp, shooting pain. After about a mile, we reached the center of town and quickly our first climb of the day. All I could think about was the number of miles we had planned for today. The task became seemingly more impossible. 

Like most mornings, I continued to truck through the pain. Eventually, we made it to the main route that would take us to Shoshone and began a steady climb. Every cycle of the pedals was met with a cycle of pain, doubt, and anger in my mind. After a few hundred feet, I felt it necessary to admit to Greg how bad the problem was. 

Venting was helpful, and I soon found the motivation to continue on, but the pain was unavoidable and it was only a few hundred feet before needing to stop again. 

The first of many thoughts came to mind. "Change the seat height!". 

A hundred feet further, "change the cleat placement".

A hundred feet further, "try sneakers instead of biking shoes". I was becoming lost, and my thoughts more irrational. It felt like a nightmare -- trapped. I called my father. Was this going to be the end of the trip?

It wasn't long until my disappointment became anger. Anger towards my body, my bike -- anything that I could rationalize as being a part of the problem. I also felt like I was a let down to Greg. Dead weight keeping him from doing a task he would not have much difficulty performing on his own. This concoction of thoughts was poisonous, but it was the only emotion I could pull from to get back on the bike. 

Greg was incredibly supportive and eventually, we made the decision that we would ride back in to Cody. It felt like failure, and I was at fault. We found a mcdonalds and I began to settle down, but still the question lingered... Could I continue? 

Thinking of how to make the day productive, we decided to go to a local bike shop and see if I could have my bike adjusted to help alleviate some of the problem. The guys at the shop were incredibly helpful, and got my hope soreing high -- but that was only the first of positive things to come. 

In the shop we met another cycler who was traveling from Portland OR to New York City. Upon sharing our stories, I learned that he was an emergency medicine physician, and was riding as a way to heal after loosing his fiancĂ© about a year ago. I found him inspiring. He understood the difficulties, both physical and emotional, of such an intense goal, and used those as his drive to become a stronger person. For me, this was incredibly eye opening. For the first time, I saw that it is not the miles that makes the trip impressive and incredible, but the will-power that makes the miles a reality. 

Sometimes, when we are at our lowest moments, we are most open to change -- and this was the mindset I needed to continue. After some tips on how to wrap and take care of the knees, I was determined to make the next day more successful, but I had to be smart about it. At the end of the day, our bodies and our minds determine how much further we can go, and these faculties must be taken care of appropriately. With the support of all our friends, families, and followers -- I am determined to pickup the bike tomorrow and try again.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Day 28 - Bridge Bay, WY to Cody, WY (83 miles)

TL;DR: Up a hill and into showers.

(TL;DR = "too long; didn't read" = a brief summary)

We woke up early, ready to climb to our highest elevation of our trip: Sylvan Pass (8530ft or 99ft above the top of Teton Pass). With our newly acquired riding partner, Daniel, we headed off to the lodge cafeteria from the night before. Knowing that we would have few food options for the rest of the day, we made sure to make breakfast count. Three pieces of French toast and a half plateful of "eggs du jour" (eggs with cheese, peppers, potatoes and sausage). My server told me I had created "a breakfast for champions". Realistically this was probably a 1200+ calorie breakfast; I should probably start getting more exercise. Anyone have any good aerobic suggestions?

Once again the lodge delivered bison sightings. This time two bison were headed from the lake towards the lodge (maybe the same too we saw the night before headed the opposite direction?) We headed east along Yellowstone Lake, once again meeting up with these same bison that had managed to take a shortcut through a wooded area. Photographing them for a final time we headed out. Beautiful views of the Lake and it's surrounding mountains were unending. Our final bison sighting was a bit more precarious. Heading directly towards us in the other lane of traffic was a large bison. We came to a stop and waved down a passing SUV and enlisted them to drive slowly between the bison and ourselves, acting as a moving shield. Avoiding a bison goring, we reached Mary Bay. This section of the lake has the largest amount of geothermal energy in the park. Along with geyser basins this area brought us our first cellular service in days.

Leaving Mary Bay, we had one more Bay before we began the climb up to Lake Butte. This was the beginning of our climb to Sylvan Pass. The three of us climbed for about 2.5 miles before reaching what we hoped to be a summit. While we were wrong about being done climbing, we were afforded beautiful views of the lake and mountains below. Then it was back to climbing. These climbs were not as bad as Teton Pass and before long we were passing Sylvan and Eleanor Lakes before we reached our highest summit of the trip.

Since Teton Pass, I had been remarking how the snow on some mountains was only about a couple hundred feet above our elevation. Finally, we were above it. A hundred feet past the sign for the pass was a patch of snow I could climb down to. Daniel and I made snowballs and posed for photographer. I gave Jonathan a snowball to bring back to Connecticut, but instead he dropped it on the road.

Now it was time for the fun part: 5 miles of 7% grade descent. (I know I am always using the term "grade". For those who do not know, the grade is the number of vertical feet one gains or loses over the course of 100 horizontal feet traveled. So for ever 100 horizontal feet we traveled down this mountain, we would lose 7 feet of elevation). Cruising down the mountain with gorgeous views surrounding us, we soon were racing out the East Entrance of Yellowstone and into Shoshone National Forest.

Despite our quick descent, the rest of the day would prove to have around 2000ft more of descent over the next 50+ miles into Cody. Hunting lodges and campsites lined this stretch of the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway. Each campsite reminding campers that tents and pop-ups were forbidden due to being in the heart of grizzly country. (Not to worry, my bear spray has been within an arms length away from me ever since leaving Jackson). The forest soon transitioned into a beautiful canyon as we followed the North Fork of the Shoshone River.

Unfortunately as often happens with canyons, we faced a strong headwind that brought our downhill progress to a crawl. Having a third rider to share the burden of breaking through the wind was a very welcome addition. The miles crawled by as the wind raged on. Stormy clouds threatened us for much of the afternoon without delivering any precipitation.  The canyon's shape was awesome to take in, especially realizing that had been formed entirely by water. The river provided a few groups of vacationers the chance to go white water rafting.

Within 20 miles of Cody we reached Buffalo Bill State Park, and with it, Buffalo Bill Reservoir. This body of water was beautiful and surrounded by buttes and mountains. The wind had lessened slightly now that we were out of the canyon, but still blew in our faces. Approaching the Buffalo Bill Dam, it became suddenly apparent that we were going to enter a long series of three tunnels with barely existent shoulders. Luckily, car actually obeyed the "Share the Road" bike signs and followed us at a safe distance.

After reading about the history and utility of the dam and its power plants and irrigation conduits, we reached Cody city limits. We're staying at Ponderosa Campgrounds. They were kind enough to give a discount when they realized the 3 of us had ridden our bikes in. We were given the chance to sleep in a teepee next to a river. Unfortunately the teepee looked a bit too warm and the river was in a canyon. The walk down into and up out of the canyon was probably the most tiring climb of the day. The grade made Teton Pass look flat. Needless to say, we chose Ponderosa's other tent field next to the showers, bathrooms, and road. Taking our first showers since Jackson after four riding days felt amazing.

Photos by Jonathan Kobles 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Day 27 - West Thumb, WY to Bridge Bay, WY (21 miles)

While it was the Virginia Boy Scout troop that kept us awake with their wolf howl imitations, it was the Minnesota troop that woke us up with excited conversation about their upcoming rafting trip. Justin had tipped us off that many of these lodges have all you can eat breakfast buffets. Medical students love food, so medical students who are constantly biking have ridiculous appetites. Sure enough this lodge had a buffet, and we sure got ours money worth of food. By the time we finished, our table had 4 full size plates and 2 smaller plates that had been  eaten clean.
Back at our site, we packed up and planned to head a few miles to West Thumb in order to hitch rides out to Old Faithful.  Believing our park map that there'd be a visitor center at West Thumb, we were disappointed to only find a gift shop. The man at the gift shop and a Ranger both told us there were no official rides out to Old Faithful. Mulling over our options we walked the trail loops along the geysers basins at West Thumb. These basins were quite interesting, some with bright colors and others with incredible depths. A few were even located directly in Lake Yellowstone and previously were used to roast caught trout while they were still on the fishing pole.

Four more times for good measure: with  no buses/vans to shuttle us out to Old Faithful, and not keen on hitchhiking, the chances of seeing the famous geyser were diminishing. The man working at the gift shop was sympathetic to our cause and let us store our gear in the shop's storeroom. Unburdened by our gear we set off towards Old Faithful. Jonathan's knees started acting up and it became clear that seeing the geyser could seriously jeopardize his ability to continue our trip eastward. He decided to head on to our campsite at Bridge Bay while I continued to Old Faithful. This meant a 35 mile round-trip for me, and four more crossings of the Continental Divide. With no gear I made good time but still managed to pick up a shard of glass in my rear tire, just 1 mile from the geyser. Scattered thunderstorms had been threatening all afternoon, and finally as I waited for Old Faithful to erupt, it began pouring with many lighting strikes. Finally the rain let up, just in time to flock to the geyser boardwalk and wait the final 10 minutes until the predicted eruption. Right on cue, the geyser's gurgling switched to a growing spout that lasted over a minute. Following the eruption I raced back to West Thumb (needing to get back before 5pm when the gift shop would close). I took in Kepler Cascades and discovered Isa Lake. At the top of one of the Divide closest to Old Faithful, sits Isa Lake. From one end drains a creek into the Snake River and to the Pacific. From the other end drains a creek into the Missouri River and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico.
Back to West Thumb, I grabbed my gear and followed the 18 miles along Yellowstone Lake that Jonathan had already covered. The lake was beautiful with mountains surrounding its shores. Jonathan once again won the wildlife lottery. As he rode, an elk walked up to inspect him, before calmly eating some grass only a dozen feet away from him. 

Quite the photographic opportunity. The route along the lake was mainly flat with only some occasional manageable hills. Rendezvousing at the campground we met Daniel. He is riding from Seattle to Boston and is the first rider we've met who is transversing the country like we are.
We headed to a nearby lodge for dinner (our first meal since our massive breakfasts). Finishing up, we saw our first bison walk right across the driveway and front lawn of the lodge. Excited that we had finally seen the iconic Yellowstone animal, we grabbed our bikes to head back to the campsite. Walking along the sidewalk, we had to quickly reverse our direction as another bison was headed directly at us.
Back at camp we made plans for Daniel to ride to Cody with us tomorrow morning. We also met a couple with a young girl who were riding from New York to Portland. We went from zero bison and zero trans-America riders in the morning to having seen/met two groups of each by the time we went to bed.

Photos by Jonathan Kobles 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Day 26 - Moran, WY to West Thumb, WY (42 miles)

With a shorter day ahead of us, we decided to sleep in a bit. In the middle of the night my phone decided to revert to the Pacific Time Zone so we ended up getting an extra unplanned hour of sleep. Waking up and feeling rested, we grabbed breakfast and coffee before continuing our trip north. Once again we were amazed by the views of the Teton Range afforded by our route. Each landscape seemed as though it could easily grace a calendar or postcard.

Eventually our slow and steady climb graduated to a steeper ascent as we headed away from Lake Jackson, and to the border of Grand Teton National Park. Cruising downhill on the John D Rockefeller Jr Memorial Highway, Jonathan caught the first glimpse of a lightly colored black bear in the woods. Unfortunately I have now missed seeing the first elk and bear of this trip, hopefully I'm more attentive/lucky going forward.
Nearing the bottom of a long descent we note that the clouds over Yellowstone have grown quite dark and have even given off a few bolts of lightning. Not looking to test the conductive properties of our steel bikes, we pulled into Flagg Range. Luckily this was only a couple miles up the road, as it is the only lodge between GTNP and YNP. Checking the radar with some help from the hotel registration desk, we realize that we will need to stay off the road until the storm passes. We eat lunch, browse the gift shop, and incessantly stare at the unyielding dark clouds outside. Finally after over a 2 hour break, we think it's safe to head back on the road. Our timing was perfect and we completely avoided the rain for the rest of the day.
Soon we reached Yellowstone National Park. Unfortunately this meant that we still had about 22 miles to make it to Grant Village Campground. Our plan was to make it to Bridge Bay Campground (an extra 20 miles), but our extended break made this goal seem unreasonable. Also complicating our plans was that the first 18 miles of Yellowstone is essentially a long climb along the Lewis River. Slowly we climbed up this narrow-shouldered road until mercifully we reached the Continental Divide. (For those who do not know, the Continental Divide runs north-south across the continent. It separates water that drains to the Pacific Ocean from water draining to the Atlantic Ocean).

Excited by our accomplishment, we quickly cruised down to Grant Village Campground, now quite positive that getting to Bridge Bay was not the best plan.
Settled in to our hiker/biker campsite between two massive out of state Boy Scout troops, we headed off to find dinner. The Lodge at Grant Village has two dining options: formal dining with required reservations, and casual cafeteria dining. Of course we first walked into the formal dining room before realizing we had made the wrong choice. The cafeteria filled us with a very satisfying pasta and meatballs.
Because we plan to get to Bridge Bay tomorrow (only 20 miles), Jonathan was very excited to be able to have the first campfire of the trip (because we did not need to wake up especially early). With our fire roaring, another bicyclist, Justin arrived at our site. He is from Kansas City but is currently mountain biking down the Great Divide from Edmonton, Canada to the Texas/Mexico border. His trip is way more intense than ours and it's incredible he's able to do it at all, let alone by himself.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Day 25 - Jackson, WY to Moran, WY (44 miles)

This morning, after eating breakfast with 20 of our closest foreign friends, we headed north through Jackson. The area surrounding Jackson's Town Square is architecturally styled to resemble the "Old West". Perhaps most interesting are the four arches constructed over the entrances. Each arch is made from hundreds of shed Elk antlers from the National Elk Preserve on Jackson's northern border.
Heading out through the preserve ourselves, we jumped on a beautifully maintained bike path that would allow us to escape road riding once more. The path afforded us fantastic views of the reserve (no elk sittings unfortunately), and the Teton Range. It had been a day since we left the Teton views in Idaho, and it was fantastic to be seeing the mountains from their eastern sides.  The bike path eventually led us to Grand Teton National Park. We were disappointed to find out that bicyclists still get charged $12 each, just to enter the park. Equally disappointing was the big hill we immediately had to climb. The top of this hill yielded a large sage brush plain that we would follow for most of the day. Jonathan was lucky enough to spot an elk, while I still have yet to see one this trip.

Over the next few miles, the views of the Tetons became closer and more impressive. Eventually reaching South Jenny Lake, we stopped for lunch at the park convenience store. National Parks have a big draw with foreigners and so did the self-serve hot dog stand. Unfortunately one family didn't really understand what to do with their hotdogs and ended up carrying their bare hotdogs in soda fountain cups.

After lunch we walked down to the lake. Immediately we noted how impressively clear the water was.  Walking a short distance up a trail we found picturesque lakeside views which we thoroughly photographed. Leaving Lake Jenny we hopped back on the main road and continued our northern trek. Much of our ride today was a slow uphill climb, making our progress well-earned and slow.
While we thought our shots of the Tetons from Lake Jenny would be unbeatable, Jackson Lake had other ideas. At the Jackson Dam we took in amazing panoramic views of the entire Teton Range. The contrast between these snowcapped mountains and the lake water below was incredible. Visible still on some of the peaks are slowly receding glaciers.

Reaching Jackson Junction we headed west towards Colter Bay. No longer in the sage brush plain, the landscape now resembled an evergreen lined New Hampshire road. 44 miles after we had begun, we arrived at Colter Bay Village and quickly found the campground. Now that we're in bear country, reminders and bear food boxes are everywhere. Essentially everything must be locked either in a vehicle, or metal box to keep curious bears from tearing into tents and belongings. The bear spray I bought back at a Jackson pharmacy no longer seems out of place here.
Following an early dinner we headed down to the lake. Colter Bay has a full service marina and mooring field, as well as many hiking and walking trails. Walking around the bay, we reached the main part of the lake, where we were once again rewarded with fantastic Teton views.
Grand Teton National Park (Colter Bay Village Campground)
Photos by Jonathan Kobles